22 Billy Stead [1903-1908] CAPS 7
Just how influential was ‘Billy’ Stead, the first man to captain New Zealand in a test on home soil, in 1904 against the touring Great Britain side?
Dave Gallaher’s vice-captain on the 1905-06 tour by the Immortals, first five-eighths Stead was told at the team’s 50th reunion in Wellington in 1955 by the man who played outside him, Jimmy Hunter – who scored a record 44 tries in 35 games on the tour, which is still a record – “Without you I would have been nothing”.
Another star of the tour, George Smith, told a reporter when the team returned to Auckland, “There’s a great little player, brains and pluck; he’s full of them. Always does the right thing, always at the right time; a real little wonder.”
His play was regarded as central to the success the side enjoyed on the tour and it was significant that he was absent from the team which lost to Wales.
What wasn’t so well known was that at the end of the tour, while the side had a three-week holiday waiting for their ship to start the journey home, Stead wrote a book, with assistance from Gallaher, called The Complete Rugby Footballer.
It remains one of the classic books of the game with many of its insights still relevant to rugby today.
He came out of retirement to play the Anglo-Welsh in the first and third tests of their tour in 1908 and was then asked to lead the Maori All Blacks on their tour to Australia in 1910.
He coached the New Zealand side in the first and second tests against the 1921 Springboks, and the Maori side of the same year. And he was involved in selection and coaching of the Southland side.
Later he became a newspaper columnist with his writings featuring in The Southland Times and NZ Truth, winning praise for their insight and topicality.